Grassley asks Trump to explain the latest firing of a government watchdog

Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks on the Senate floor on March 20, 2020, about COVID-19. (Photo by Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Amid a growing chorus of protests over President Trump’s decision to fire several government watchdogs, Sen. Chuck Grassley on Monday called on the president to explain the most recent firing.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican and senior member of the U.S. Senate, wrote to the president Monday and asked him to explain why he fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Friday without providing advance notice to Congress as required by law.

Linick had been investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the potential misuse of a political appointee to do personal errands for him, such as picking up his dry cleaning, walking his dog and booking restaurant reservations. Linick was also investigating Pompeo and the Trump administration to determine whether they had done an end-run around Congress and illegally sold weapons to Saudi Arabia. State Department officials have acknowledged that the recommendation to fire Linick came from Pompeo, the Washington Post reported.

Over the past six weeks, Trump has removed five government watchdogs from their posts, including intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who informed Congress of the whistleblower complaint that led to the president’s impeachment, and Mitch Behm, acting inspector general for the Department of Transportation.

Trump also fired Glenn Fine from his posts as the acting inspector general for the Defense Department and chairman of the committee tasked with overseeing the allocation of $2 trillion in COVID-19 funding.

Trump also removed Christi Grimm from her position as acting inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services. Grimm was the author of a recent report detailing a shortage of personal protective equipment and tests for COVID-19 — a report the president denounced as “wrong.”

In his letter to the president, Grassley said the nation’s inspectors general “should be free from partisan political interference, from either the executive or legislative branch.”

He noted that “Congress created inspectors general to combat waste, fraud, and abuse, and to be independent watchdogs holding federal agencies accountable to the taxpayer. In light of their important and unique role, they report to both the president and Congress. To guard them from unwarranted political attacks from all sides, including from officials that they are duty bound to critique, Congress provided IGs with some additional protections. One of those is the requirement that the president provide notice and explanation to Congress 30 days before the removal of an IG,” Grassley wrote.

Grassley asked the president to provide, within two weeks, “a detailed reasoning” for Linick’s dismissal.

In a letter sent Friday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Trump said he fired Linick because he no longer had confidence in him. But in his letter to Trump, Grassley said that under federal law, a loss of confidence is insufficient grounds to dismiss an inspector general.

“Congress’ intent is clear — that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act,” Grassley wrote. “This is in large part because Congress intended that inspectors general only be removed when there is clear evidence of unfitness, wrongdoing, or failure to perform the duties of the office.”

Grassley also warned Trump of the potential conflict of interest that would be created if the president selected political appointees from within federal agencies to serve as their inspector general. Such a move would “unduly threaten the statutorily required independence of inspectors general.”

Grassley, who describes himself as a longtime advocate for inspectors general, sent a similar letter in April about the president’s removal of Atkinson.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.